A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 10, Munslow Hundred (Part), the Liberty and Borough of Wenlock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.
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In this section
- THE LIBERTY AND BOROUGH OF WENLOCK
THE LIBERTY AND BOROUGH OF WENLOCK
At the beginnning of 1966 fourteen Shropshire towns enjoyed municipal self-government: five larger and older ones under municipal borough councils, nine newer and smaller ones under urban district councils. (fn. 1) A sixth municipal borough, that of Wenlock, was unique, not only for the singular extent of its territory (which contained four small towns set in 92 sq. km. of countryside) (fn. 2) but also because its legal identity and constitution arose from the fact that it was a rump of Wenlock priory's 'monkish domains' (fn. 3) which, since before the Norman Conquest, had been administered under successive forms of fiscal, seignorial, and municipal privilege. The borough's uniqueness derived from unforeseen, probably unintended, effects of an early 12th-century declaration that all the lands of the Cluniac priory of Wenlock constituted one parish. They never did, but the declaration, its original purpose obscure, survived as an oracle, obfuscating the changing character and extent of Holy Trinity parish, Much Wenlock, and working on the ambiguities of royal charters to influence the exercise of secular franchises: thus the priory, and eventually its borough, were enabled to extend their liberties over almost the whole of the priory estate.
The early estate: parishes and fiscal privilege
Most of the estates received by the priory at its foundation c. 1080 had already belonged for four centuries to the church of Wenlock, founded as a double monastery and later to become a minster of secular priests. (fn. 4) Well before the Conquest they shared a common fiscal privilege. All lay in south Shropshire, scattered around a large central estate at Much Wenlock and at no great distance from it. Despite some changes, moreover, the church of Wenlock's estate was one of those (fn. 5) notable for long maintained territorial integrity. The earliest documents, embedded in the Testament of St. Mildburg (transcribed into the life of the saint attributed to Goscelin), have been taken to suggest that the monastery was originally much more widely endowed, with estates in Wales and what were to become Herefordshire and Worcestershire. (fn. 6) Probably, however, the monastery's early endowment never formed more than part (albeit much the greatest part) of the extensive lands given to Mildburg, a daughter of King Merewalh of the West Hecani. (fn. 7)
Before 690 Aethelheah, abbot of Iken (Suff.), gave Mildburg 144 hides (manentes) which his monastery (fn. 8) had bought from her father (probably dead by c. 685). Of those hides 47 were within the later Herefordshire, at 'Magana', 'Lydas', and 'another place by the river Monnow'. (fn. 9) The gift implies a monastic foundation at 'Wininicas', under Iken's tutelage and perhaps in existence since c. 680, (fn. 10) but there is nothing to suggest that Mildburg was obliged to use, or did use, all her lands to endow one monastery, (fn. 11) for all that Aethelheah gave her was to be absolutely at her disposal, by gift or legacy, to promote monastic life, (fn. 12) and Mildburg's Testament, (fn. 13) though occasionally read aloud in the Cluniac priory, (fn. 14) was no historia fundationis. (fn. 15) It is thus not known to what purposes Mildburg's 'Herefordshire' or Welsh lands were devoted. Rulers enjoyed much proprietorial freedom with church lands, (fn. 16) and Mildburg would doubtless have been expected to foster her family's dynastic interests, centred on the Lugg valley, heartland of the kingdom. (fn. 17) 'Magana' (Maund, later in Bodenham parish) possibly formed part of the large minster parish of Leominster, where monastic life flourished in Saxon times (fn. 18) and which was the ecclesiastical centre of Merewalh's kingdom. 'Lydas', a large estate near Hereford, seems to have passed to the minster at Hereford, founded by Mildburg's half-brother Mildfrith and destined, as the cathedral church of a diocese created c. 690 for his subjects, to surpass Leominster. (fn. 19) An estate by the Monnow, implausible as an endowment for a monastery at the opposite end of the kingdom, may have furthered other, unrecorded, initiatives by Mildburg or her family, as may the estate in Wales (fn. 20) that she is said to have owned.
Ninety-seven of the 144 hides which the young (fn. 21) virgin, already consecrated to religion, received from Abbot Aethelheah were in exchange for 60 at 'Homtun' (possibly near Leominster and later part of the Leominster monastic estate) (fn. 22) and were 'in the place called Wininicas'; that is usually assumed to include the site of Mildburg's monastery at Much Wenlock and was thus the first instalment and core of those estates which she did use to endow the monastery there. (fn. 23) 'Skilled in monastic life' she ruled it as abbess until her death some time after 727, increasing its estates with gifts from her kinsmen and others and purchases from neighbouring landowners. (fn. 24) Before 704 her half-brothers Merchelm and Mildfrith gave her 63 hides around Clee Hill (where the Cluniac priory owned Stoke St. Milborough, Clee Downton and the Moor, Clee Stanton, the Heath, and Norncott), (fn. 25) by the river Corve (probably the later estates of Bourton, Easthope, Larden, Patton, Shipton, Skimblescott, and 'Stantune'), (fn. 26) in 'Kenbecleag' (possibly Beckbury, and, if so, lost by 1066), (fn. 27) and in Chelmarsh (probably Deuxhill and Eardington). (fn. 28) King Ceolred of Mercia (709-16) gave her 4 hides at 'Peandan Wrye', (fn. 29) perhaps an estate that had belonged to their grandfather King Penda. (fn. 30) In Ceolred's reign a nun gave her 8 hides at 'Lingen', probably 'Lege' lying below Wenlock Edge and including the place later called Hughley, where the priory retained ½ hide in 1086. (fn. 31) Late in life Mildburg spent much on buying Madeley. (fn. 32)
Though it remained largely intact, the landed endowment of St. Mildburg's abbey was subject to occasional royal interference. 'Stantune' was surrendered to royal lordship late in the 9th century, (fn. 33) but in 901 it was restored to the minster, with Caughley added, in exchange for Easthope and Patton; (fn. 34) Patton subsequently became the caput of a hundred. (fn. 35) By 1066 'Stantune' had been lost again, (fn. 36) but the minster then owned, in addition to Mildburg's early endowment, a large estate at Ticklerton (fn. 37) in Ape Dale and smaller manors at Pickthorn near Stottesdon, Sutton in Shrewsbury hundred, (fn. 38) and Little Wenlock (fn. 39) north-west of Madeley. Penda's 'Wrye' was perhaps among those estates. (fn. 40) Little Wenlock (3 hides in 1086) presumably had a different name before it was acquired by the church of Wenlock, (fn. 41) and Ticklerton (10 hides in 1086), perhaps another renamed settlement, (fn. 42) lies on the north-west side of central Ape Dale, where streams deflected by the lumpy topography (fn. 43) may suggest a possible 'Wrye'. (fn. 44)
Roger of Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury from 1068, (fn. 45) was almost the last secular ruler to tamper with the minster estate, but his changes, like those of c. 900 (fn. 46) and the 10th or 11th century, (fn. 47) were in the end fairly minor. He took Stoke St. Milborough to give to his chaplains, (fn. 48) but by 1086 he had taken Eardington to endow a new college at Quatford for them, (fn. 49) and the Cluniac monks whom he had brought to Much Wenlock c. 1080 soon regained Stoke; the earl compensated them for distant Eardington with the baron of Castle Holdgate's manor of Millichope (fn. 50) adjoining their Ticklerton (later Eaton-under-Heywood) estate. Nevertheless the priory's estate was still clearly that which St. Mildburg had assembled, centred on the great, though probably diminished, minster parish of Holy Trinity and mostly concentrated in Patton hundred. An oddity of Patton hundred in 1086 was its detached member of Beckbury: lending support to the identification of Beckbury with 'Kenbecleag', the link gives a first hint of the new priory's early ambition to draw the church of Wenlock's ancient estates into one hundred, an aim realized almost completely more than a century after 1086. (fn. 51) Before that, however, the priory succeeded in regaining for Holy Trinity parish some of its semi-detached members by means that were to contribute to the success of its wider hundredal policy.
The church of Wenlock's estates were always too scattered to form one parish. For its larger estates away from Much Wenlock the Saxon minster presumably provided churches (fn. 52) over which, as landowner, it exercised proprietary rights. Smaller distant estates are likely to have been served from independently established churches nearby, (fn. 53) as probably were Deuxhill and Eardington (possibly in a parish of Chelmarsh), (fn. 54) Pickthorn (in Stottesdon), (fn. 55) and Sutton (fn. 56) (perhaps associated with Meole Brace church). (fn. 57) Even Hughley, adjoining Holy Trinity parish but in Condover hundred in 1086, probably depended on a church to the north, perhaps Cound. (fn. 58)
The religious influence of the Wenlock community, however, would have been exercised most directly throughout the large parish centring on it and probably once stretching from 'Stantune' and Shipton in Corve Dale to Benthall, Broseley, and Linley in the Severn Gorge. (fn. 59) In time the community probably built local chapels, the surviving evidence of which is the Saxon fabric in Barrow church. (fn. 60) The church of Wenlock's own lands presumably dominated the parish, reinforcing the community's religious influence there by its power as a landowner. Within the area suggested for the parish, however, Caughley did not belong to the minster until 901, and the minster is not known to have had a temporal estate in (for example) Broseley, Willey, (fn. 61) Brockton, (fn. 62) or Linley (fn. 63) before 1086 or ever any in Acton Round. (fn. 64) So the parish evidently included lay estates, (fn. 65) and from the 10th century, certainly by the time of Edgar's law on tithe payment, (fn. 66) lay landowners were weakening the cohesion of minster parishes by founding local churches. (fn. 67) Although Barrow is the only known pre-Conquest chapel in Holy Trinity parish, there may have been another at Shipton. The priest at Patton in 1086 may have served a church founded after the minster's estate there became royal property (901) and a hundred caput, (fn. 68) and, whenever founded, a church at Patton, by separating Shipton and Larden from Holy Trinity parish, could have led to the foundation of a chapel at Shipton to safeguard the minster's parochial rights there.
By c. 1110 Shipton chapel's own independence was being asserted, (fn. 69) a claim that may suggest its foundation long before. Dismissal of the claim led Richard of Beaumais, bishop of London and probably already a benefactor to Wenlock priory, (fn. 70) to declare the land of St. Mildburg all 'one parish' subject to the mother church of Wenlock. Beaumais pronounced his sentence, the so-called Dictum of St. Mildburg, as justiciar of Shropshire, (fn. 71) not in the ecclesiastical role of judgedelegate presumed for him when Bishop Vere confirmed the Dictum eighty-odd years later. (fn. 72) The Dictum's claim that the parochial unity of St. Mildburg's lands was ancient need not be taken literally or as a guide to Saxon parochial arrangements. The English clergy who attested the Dictum were interpreting the past in terms appropriate to the age of reform in which they lived, when ownership of churches was being redefined: lay proprietorship was seen as mere patronage while churches were conceived as owned by their rectors and monastic ownership of rectories was encouraged. (fn. 73) Accordingly to declare that Wenlock's estates were one parish subject to one church was in effect to give the monks of Wenlock, owners of Holy Trinity church, (fn. 74) a monopoly of rectorial rights throughout their estates and on other men's estates within their parishes, the newly defined arrangements being sanctioned as immemorial. (fn. 75)
The Dictum's significance was probably enhanced by further developments which it helped to warrant. They may be considered first in relation to four manors east of Much Wenlock: Badger, Beckbury, Broseley, and Willey. Although only Broseley and Willey (fn. 76) were probably ancient members (perhaps membra disjecta by the early 12th century) of Holy Trinity parish, the four form a distinctive group among the estates that the priory owned or which were to come within its liberty. All were in lay hands in 1086 and Domesday Book states no ostensible connexion between them and the priory; (fn. 77) all four were also distinguished by a two-stage system of church patronage. Domesday Book's one hint of a temporal link with Wenlock priory is the record of Beckbury as a detached member of Patton hundred: making identification of Beckbury with Wenlock's early estate of 'Kenbecleag' more plausible, it also suggests that the priory was trying to establish or revive seignorial links with Beckbury. (fn. 78) By what tactics its 'strong and progressive' strategy (fn. 79) was pursued must be guessed. The Dictum's declaration that the priory lands were one parish implied the corollary that places linked to the priory ecclesiastically were among its lands or estates, posing a dilemma to the manorial lords. Thus the priory may have followed up the temporal claims which it was making on Beckbury c. 1086 by the advancement, after c. 1110, of parochial claims (perhaps including Badger), (fn. 80) success reinforcing the earlier temporal claims. So, by analogy with Beckbury and Badger, the recovery of Broseley and Willey for Holy Trinity parish with the Dictum's aid may have prompted the priory's forging of temporal links with them too.
The two-stage church patronage (contrasting with more conventional advowsons of churches on other priory manors that were subinfeudated) (fn. 81) is so similar in all four manors (fn. 82) as to suggest that the arrangements originated in similar circumstances and at the same time. It is not only the Dictum which suggests that that time was the early 12th century. For what may not have been the first time (fn. 83) Prior Humbald (1155 × 1175) granted the lord of Badger the right to nominate an incumbent for the prior to present to the bishop. (fn. 84) Although comparable arrangements for Beckbury, Willey, and Broseley are not recorded unambiguously until 1303, (fn. 85) 1324, (fn. 86) and 1359 (fn. 87) respectively, (fn. 88) it seems reasonable to deduce the priory's seignorial links with Beckbury (striven for c. 1086, achieved by 1120), (fn. 89) Badger (inferable from 1198, confirmed in the 1220s), (fn. 90) and Broseley and Willey (inferable from 1198) (fn. 91) from the early 12th century and the ecclesiastical links that had probably preceded them. Broseley had formed part of a ring of manors belonging to the baron of Castle Holdgate and the sheriff (later to the FitzAlans) hemming the priory's central estate, (fn. 92) and about the time that the Dictum was issued Henry I altered the feudal tenure of Broseley, enfeoffing the Lorrainer Warin of Metz in the baron's place, (fn. 93) at the same time conferring on the Breton royal protégé Alan fitz Flaald (brought to Shropshire by 1114) the chief lordship of Willey over Turold of Verley's heirs or successors. (fn. 94) About 1115 Warin of Metz and Warner, the new terre tenant of Willey, attested Richard of Beaumais's declaration supplementing the Dictum. (fn. 95) Their attestations suggest that they were already in some sense the prior's men (fn. 96) and that the Dictum had quickly reasserted the rights of the priory's parish of Holy Trinity over their estates, fixing the pensions that the incumbents of Broseley and Willey, as those of Badger and Beckbury, (fn. 97) are later known to have owed and which were probably secured by the two-stage patronage. (fn. 98)
The four manors seem to have been the only ones over whose feudal tenants the priory intruded itself as lord (as distinct from becoming overlord by the enfeoffment of tenants on the priory demesne), probably soon after the Dictum was issued. In Badger and Beckbury the lay overlords continued to be recorded, and the terre tenants evidently held their estates of two overlords concurrently; the service which they owed to the priory included rents (secular analogues of the church pensions) and, from 1198, afforcement of the liberty court. (fn. 99) Broseley and Willey too were held of the priory for suit of court from 1198, though after the displacement of their lay overlords-Broseley's early and Willey's after 1256-the prior seems to have felt free to exact further services from those two nearby manors: ceremonial attendance at his table by the lord of Broseley and the carrying of his frock in Parliament by the lord of Willey. (fn. 100) The assertion of ecclesiastical and seignorial rights over the four manors, probably from the early 12th century, had made them parts of the priory's lands and so, in the Dictum's terms, also parts of the 'one parish' which all those lands formed.
The Dictum also helped to reassert the rights of Holy Trinity church over the FitzAlan demesne manor of Acton Round (fn. 101) in the earlier 12th century when, showing the family's constant solicitude for its demesnes, the lord reserved a third of the manor's tithes for Cound church on another of his demesne manors. (fn. 102) Besides the restoration of Holy Trinity parish to something like its original extent, however, other conveniently adjoining manors were absorbed, the long-possessed Hughley and the newly acquired Wigwig probably in the earlier or mid 12th century. (fn. 103) Significantly, however, it proved impossible to absorb Church Preen. Preen parish adjoined Hughley and most of it fell within Church Preen manor, which had probably been given to Wenlock priory in the late 11th or early 12th century. Nevertheless the baron of Castle Holdgate, overlord of Church Preen and of the parish's other manor, Holt Preen, seems to have succeeded in maintaining the existence of the cell at Church Preen as his Eigenkloster and thereby preserving the separateness of Preen parish in his own patronage. (fn. 104)
The Dictum did not unite all the priory's churches and estates in one parish. In 1332 the bounds of Holy Trinity parish (fn. 105) excluded the priory's parishes of Badger, Beckbury, Clun, Preen, (fn. 106) and Sutton and its estates of Deuxhill, Ditton Priors (containing Middleton Priors), Eaton-under-Heywood, Madeley, Stoke St. Milborough, and Little Wenlock; those places, some including adjacent subinfeudated estates, (fn. 107) functioned as independent parishes in the Middle Ages and later. (fn. 108) Rather, it seems, the Dictum's authority assisted the monks first (as has been seen) to reintegrate Holy Trinity parish, then freely to reorganize benefices on their estates in ways that best suited their house's interests as occasion arose-essentially by justifying the monks' continued exercise of a landowner's old proprietorial freedom with churches. (fn. 109) Thus c. 1115, with Bishop Beaumais's renewed sanction and in an evident compromise of claims, the priory conceded the tithes and burial rights of its estate at Lower Millichope to the rector of Munslow, (fn. 110) keeping those of its estate at Upper Millichope for its own neighbouring church of Eaton-under-Heywood. (fn. 111) Simultaneously the priory's small manor of Deuxhill was separated from Glazeley parish, (fn. 112) though its prospects as an independent benefice were not good; later, after the priory had acquired Ditton (c. 1175) and the appropriation of its church (in the mid 1220s), the monks chose to forgo the tithes of its chapel of Middleton and to unite Middleton to Deuxhill and so make a viable living, if not a convenient parish, of two places 8 km. apart. (fn. 113)
Though never united parochially, the minster estate had a long-established unity in secular affairs, for its freedom from secular dues was secured by the surrender of 'Stantune' to royal lordship, apparently in the late 9th century. (fn. 114) That unity of fiscal privilege was probably confirmed over a century later in Cnut's reign when 4 of Much Wenlock's 20 hides were acquitted of liability to pay geld. (fn. 115) In 1086 many of Wenlock priory's other estates enjoyed similar concessions, perhaps also since Cnut's time: (fn. 116) 13 of its hides were then exempt from geld, all in Patton hundred where the priory held 63¾ of the hundred's original 101 hides. (fn. 117) The priory's 4½ (formerly 9½) hides scattered in four other hundreds were not exempt. (fn. 118) Fiscal privilege was thus confined to the priory's estates in Patton hundred, and the priory's privileged and dominant position there, though falling short of making Patton a private hundred, (fn. 119) perhaps suggests a twofold motive for Beckbury's inclusion in it by 1086: (fn. 120) first as a reinforcement of priory claims on the manor that were probably at best only shadowy ones from a remote past, (fn. 121) and secondly to strengthen the priory's position within the hundred. Modification of hundreds (fn. 122) and even shires (fn. 123) for the convenience of great landowners was not unusual in the early Middle Ages.
Patton hundred, however, where the priory enjoyed such privileged pre-eminence, was to disappear. It merged, perhaps gradually, with Culvestan hundred after the choice of a new caput at Munslow c. 1100 or shortly before, the resulting hundred taking the new caput's name. (fn. 124) Munslow hundred naturally included the priory's manors from the former Patton and Culvestan (fn. 125) hundreds, but it also came to include Broseley and Willey, whose transfer from Alnodestreu hundred or its successor Brimstree (fn. 126) before 1198 (fn. 127) was presumably eased partly by their nearness to Much Wenlock but mainly by their reintegration with Holy Trinity parish probably soon after c. 1110. (fn. 128) The ecclesiastical and seignorial links forged with Badger and Beckbury, (fn. 129) however, while they evidently made them a detached part of Hereford diocese, (fn. 130) did not serve to make them a detachment of Munslow hundred, and Beckbury was restored to what was apparently its original hundred of Alnodestreu (or to Brimstree). (fn. 131) Within the new and far larger hundred of Munslow, moreover, the priory's landowning position was much less dominant, the extent of its privileges less outstanding. New initiatives were needed to secure the liberty of a private hundred into which Beckbury and Badger, along with the rest of the priory estates, could be drawn-as, after 1198, almost all were.
The Liberty: Bourton hundred and other leets
In 1138 King Stephen freed the priory and its tenants from suit to shire and hundred: though the priory was to be represented there by its steward, its tenants need not attend unless specially summoned in a Crown plea or complaining of lack of justice in the prior's own court. (fn. 132) In fact the privilege seems not to have given rise to the priory's exercise of hundredal jurisdiction over its estates. That jurisdiction was exercised only from 1198, when Richard I freed all the priory's men, lands, and tithes and whatever was theirs from all exactions of royal foresters and sheriffs, from shire and hundred courts, and from other customs. The priory was also to hold a court: the usual formula of sac and soc, toll and team, and infangthief (fn. 133) indicated a court leet co-ordinate with the sheriff's tourn in the hundreds. (fn. 134) Later privileges granted to the lord and inhabitants of the liberty were economic in character: quittance of murage, toll, pontage, etc., throughout the realm in 1265 and free warren on their estates in 1291. (fn. 135) By 1292 outfangthief was apparently an unchallenged constituent of the prior's jurisdiction over the liberty, which was thus slightly more privileged than most Shropshire leets. (fn. 136)
The 1198 charter, confirmed by Henry III in 1227 and Edward I in 1290, (fn. 137) conferred hundredal jurisdiction (fn. 138) not merely over the priory's temporalities but also over its spiritualities, principally tithes, (fn. 139) which, since c. 1110, the priory could claim as de jure one rectorial estate notwithstanding the existence de facto of several parochial benefices. The 1255 inquiry into regalian rights in hundreds and shires (fn. 140) reveals the priory's liberty as comprising its demesne manors of Much Wenlock, (fn. 141) Bourton, Deuxhill, Ditton Priors, Eaton-under-Heywood, (fn. 142) Madeley, Great Oxenbold, Shipton, Stoke St. Milborough, (fn. 143) Little Wenlock, and Weston (with Hopton and Monk Hall) and the subinfeudated estates of Badger, Beckbury, Benthall, Broseley (including Arlescott and Bradeley), Caughley, Corve, Hatton, Hughley, Over and Nether Larden, Linley, Upper and Lower Millichope, Norncott, part of Patton, Pickthorn, Posenhall, Presthope, Skimblescott, Clee Stanton, Willey, and Wolverton. The demesne manor of Sutton and the subinfeudated manor of the Heath were also included in the jurors' verdict. Sutton, however, unlike all the other demesne manors, was never within the priory liberty. (fn. 144) No particulars of suits owed to the priory liberty or diverted from shire or hundred are given for Sutton, but that is true of all the demesne manors save Much Wenlock itself and the very recently acquired Great Oxenbold. Sutton's inclusion in the Wenlock verdict moreover suggests that the priory produced evidence about all its lordships, whether it exercised jurisdiction over them or not, and that the jurors consequently found a verdict encompassing all of them. Such a supposition is strengthened by the terms in which the Heath is mentioned in the Wenlock verdict of 1255. Diversions of suits from shire or hundred to the liberty are particularized for all the subinfeudated estates except the Heath, an exception indicating that the Heath was probably not in the liberty then, as it certainly was not later; that is to be expected of an estate which the baron of Castle Holdgate held of the priory in 1255 and which soon afterwards became a demesne manor of the FitzAlans. (fn. 145) In the mid 13th century, and in fact long after the close of the Middle Ages, Patton (fn. 146) and Brockton were only partly in the liberty: the prior had become mesne lord of the liberty part of Patton by c. 1170 (fn. 147) and acquired the tithes of the liberty part of Brockton in the mid 13th century, (fn. 148) the century in which, by and large, liberties were formed and fixed. (fn. 149) The priory's acquisition of the whole terre tenancy of Patton in 1364 was too late to alter the liberty boundary so as to include the whole of Patton.
Some priory estates were excluded from its liberty as its limits were fixed in the 13th century when neighbouring lords' defences of liberties overlapping the priory's constrained the priory's freedom of action. The excluded estates (fn. 150) were Holy Trinity parish's chapelry of Acton Round (where the priory had asserted rectorial rights but had no temporal estate), Clun rectory, Church Preen manor, Preen rectory, (fn. 151) the Heath, and Sutton. (fn. 152) All but the last were connected with the FitzAlan and Castle Holdgate baronies.
Generations of FitzAlans safeguarded the integrity of their demesne manors, duly securing their exemption from hundred courts but showing no such concern for their subinfeudated estates. (fn. 153) Thus Willey, their subinfeudated manor whose tithes had all passed to Holy Trinity, was later included in Munslow hundred and, from 1198, the priory liberty there. (fn. 154) Similarly the priory had established a feudal tie with the FitzAlans' subinfeudated manor of Beckbury by 1120 and made it part of the priory liberty from 1198. (fn. 155) By contrast the FitzAlans' demesne manor of Acton Round, part of whose tithes had been denied to Holy Trinity, (fn. 156) was kept out of the priory liberty: (fn. 157) the FitzAlans withdrew it from Munslow hundred court before 1255 (fn. 158) to create their own court leet. (fn. 159) Other examples show the FitzAlans' disregard of subinfeudated manors and tenacity of their demesnes. In the mid 13th century the priory acquired some of the tithes of the FitzAlans' subinfeudated manor of Brockton and, in accordance with the 1198 charter, that part of Brockton passed into the priory liberty. (fn. 160) By contrast the Heath, probably not in the priory liberty in 1255 (when the baron of Castle Holdgate held it under the priory), was certainly denied to the prior's jurisdiction after John FitzAlan became terre tenant. (fn. 161) At Acton Round it was probably the FitzAlans who intruded a chaplain in the early 1280s (fn. 162) in violation of the priory's right to present, (fn. 163) and for fifty years they did not recognize the appropriation of Clun church c. 1220 to the priory; (fn. 164) thus Clun tithes, when considered as outside the priory liberty, should be seen not merely as the most distant priory estate and a late acquired spirituality but also (like Acton Round's tithes, belonging of old to nearby Wenlock) as an accessory to FitzAlan demesnes. (fn. 165)
Despite early 12th-century changes (fn. 166) and losses then and later, (fn. 167) Castle Holdgate barony comprised half a dozen manors in Corve Dale and the neighbouring dales, centring on Holdgate (the only demesne manor) and with outliers further afield. The canons of Holdgate castle church owned tithes in all parts of the barony, (fn. 168) their property reinforcing the honor's cohesion and helping to counteract difficulties of exacting suit to its court from scattered feudal tenants. (fn. 169) So from the mid 13th century successive owners of the barony-the Mauduits, the king of the Romans, and the Templars-were diverting to Holdgate the suits which their manors owed at hundred courts. (fn. 170) The two manors in Preen parish, whose tithes were appropriated to the monks, made no suits to Condover hundred from c. 1245. It is not stated who then withdrew their suits, (fn. 171) but Preen was not merely a priory cell but also a small Eigenkloster of the baron, (fn. 172) to whose Holdgate court Preen suits were rendered, (fn. 173) and Preen was never in the priory liberty. Jurisdiction over the Heath, a manor which the baron held of the priory, may have been in contention in 1255 and the priory never acquired the jurisdiction. (fn. 174) Where the baron had lordship he tried to keep jurisdiction, and so he, like the FitzAlans, set limits to the expansion of the priory's liberty. Nevertheless after the priory acquired Great Oxenbold from the baron's feudal tenant in 1244 and drew the manor into its liberty the baron surrendered both overlordship and jurisdiction in 1256. (fn. 175)
Sutton, the priory estate neither in its liberty nor connected with the FitzAlan and Castle Holdgate estates, fell under the borough of Shrewsbury's jurisdiction, (fn. 176) as well defended as any liberty in the county, (fn. 177) baronial or monastic.
Thus were the liberty's territorial limits fixed, somewhat short of the whole priory estate, during the 13th century. In 1274 there were many complaints of exactions and illegalities perpetrated in the liberty by sheriffs and undersheriffs, escheators and subescheators, and bailiffs, under-bailiffs, and beadles of Munslow hundred; (fn. 178) the administrative privilege of return of writs would have excluded such officers, (fn. 179) but they were not definitively excluded until the incorporation of the priory's borough in 1468. (fn. 180) Nevertheless within the liberty the priory's courts were free to develop hundredal or leet jurisdiction; and, since the principal court was held at Bourton, that was known by the 1220s as Bourton hundred, (fn. 181) though occasionally as Wenlock hundred. (fn. 182)
All Bourton hundred's 'ancient court rolls' were lost when its lord, the younger Sir John Weld, was taken prisoner at the fall of Shrewsbury to Parliamentarian forces in 1645. (fn. 183) Nevertheless it is clear in general how the courts operated. By 1231 Bourton hundred small court met fortnightly. (fn. 184) Its twice yearly great court had the marks of a court leet in the 13th century, gallows and jurisdiction over the assize of bread and of ale, (fn. 185) and it doubtless met at the usual times-after Easter and after Michaelmas, as recorded in 1369. Its pleas and perquisites were then worth 20s., (fn. 186) £4 in 1390. (fn. 187) The small court met every three weeks by the 1360s; its pleas and perquisites were worth 6s. 8d. a year. The lords of Broseley, Linley, and Willey and two tenants in Much Wenlock (fn. 188) then owed three-weekly suit to the small court. Other socage tenants owed suit to the hundred and rendered money dues there that were said to amount to £8 in 1369 and to £6 13s. 4d. in 1379. (fn. 189)
Particular suits owed by individual tenants apart, it seems likely that Bourton hundred's jurisdiction extended over the whole liberty except the priory's town and township of Much Wenlock, a demesne manor which, probably by 1272, had its own court leet. (fn. 190) The Much Wenlock burgesses (fn. 191) were thus privileged within the liberty, and in Much Wenlock, between the spring and autumn great courts, there were frequent and regular small courts, often every three weeks. That was also the early 14th-century pattern in Madeley new town, in another of the priory's demesne manors; a separate court for the manor's unfree tenants was absorbed by the new town little court, possibly in 1380 but certainly by 1411, and eventually only the great court survived, though that seems not to have excluded the jurisdiction of Bourton hundred's leet twice a year. In the priory's other demesne manors within the liberty (fn. 192) great courts were rendered superfluous by that of Bourton hundred, and small courts were held much less frequently than in Much Wenlock: evidently three or four times a year in Eaton-under-Heywood in the 13th and 14th centuries and once or twice a year in the earlier 15th century. Similar patterns appear in the other demesne manors. After the priory acquired a third of Broseley manor in 1363 it held a separate small court there, probably once or twice a year as in 1406-8; (fn. 193) later Broseley's 'Priory land' was evidently absorbed into Marsh manor. (fn. 194) The priory acquired Patton manor in 1364 and held the court baron as late as 1421, though how often is unknown; by 1522 it was absorbed into Oxenbold manor. (fn. 195) Such changes suggest some late medieval reorganization of the demesne manors' small courts, of which there are other hints: from some time between 1450 and 1477 the Marsh court may have been organized separately from the others, (fn. 196) perhaps with a view to the delegation of some leet business to it, and Oxenbold court was dealing with breaches of the assize of bread and of ale in the late Middle Ages. (fn. 197) Callaughton, perhaps previously subject to Much Wenlock court, acquired its own court baron before 1540. (fn. 198) The priory's holding of a court in the subinfeudated manor of Wolverton in 1334 may have had some special cause, perhaps a minority. (fn. 199)
The development of Bourton hundred and some other separate, or embryo, leets within Wenlock priory's liberty, withdrawn from Munslow hundred's jurisdiction, did not alter the hundred-based divisions of the county for government purposes. Places in the liberty of Wenlock were taxed in Munslow hundred in 1327 and 1497 (fn. 200) and mustered with Munslow hundred in 1542. (fn. 201) Nevertheless the creation (in 1468) of a quarter sessions borough effectively conterminous with the liberty began to change the administrative map of Shropshire, (fn. 202) and in 1524 tax was collected in the liberty separately from Munslow hundred. (fn. 203) From the 16th century Wenlock borough, or 'Franchise' as it was generally known, (fn. 204) was a normal division of the county. (fn. 205)
The prior of Wenlock was lord of Bourton hundred (let in 1528 and 1540) until the surrender to the Crown in 1540. (fn. 206) On 12 December 1573 Henry Welby, of Goxhill (Lincs.), and George Blythe of London bought the hundred from the Crown to hold of the manor of East Greenwich in socage for 20s. a year. (fn. 207) Next day they sold it to David Deley, a London goldsmith. (fn. 208) In 1595, shortly before his death, Deley mortgaged it to another Londoner Thomas Myddleton, who acquired it next year from Deley's son and heir Jerome, a London schoolmaster. (fn. 209) Myddleton sold it in 1601 to William Baldwyn (d. 1614) of Elsich, who was evidently tenant of the hundred (fn. 210) and to whom, in 1595, the Crown had leased Munslow hundred for 21 years. (fn. 211) Baldwyn's son Charles owned Bourton hundred when he came of age in 1619 (fn. 212) and as a minor had presumably inherited the lease of Munslow hundred too; indeed the lease may have been renewed or extended for he bought Munslow hundred c. 1630. (fn. 213) In 1639 Baldwyn sold Bourton hundred to the younger John Weld (kt. 1642), of Willey, (fn. 214) and after Weld succeeded his father in 1666 (fn. 215) Bourton hundred and Marsh leet both descended with Willey in the Weld and (from 1748) Forester families. George Forester (d. 1811) devised it with the rest of his estates to his cousin Cecil (cr. Lord Forester 1821), (fn. 216) but by 1811 the hundred jurisdiction had presumably ceased to exist for practical purposes, though the Marsh court leet maintained a formal existence as late as the 1870s. (fn. 217)
The area over which Bourton hundred's jurisdiction was exercised had probably begun to shrink by the time the priory's borough received its first charter in 1468. (fn. 218) It did not include Much Wenlock itself, (fn. 219) and in the late Middle Ages some of the leet functions appropriate to Bourton hundred (such as the assize of bread and of ale) seem to have been devolved by the priory to the Marsh and Oxenbold manor courts, each of whose jurisdictions came to include several townships. (fn. 220) Between its acquisition of the priory in 1540 and its sale of Bourton hundred in 1573 the Crown sold former priory manors to men whose grants included general words which, by entitling them to a court leet, actually or potentially (fn. 221) reduced Bourton hundred and the Marsh and Oxenbold leets. Richard Lawley acquired the right to a court leet with the manor of Bourton itself in 1543, (fn. 222) and Bourton manor was lost to Bourton hundred. (fn. 223) The purchasers of Ditton Priors and Eaton-under-Heywood manors each acquired the right to a court leet in 1544, and one was being held in Ditton in 1570, though there is no evidence that one was ever held in Eaton. (fn. 224) The new lords of manors that had formed part of the large priory manor of Shipton (earlier called Oxenbold) acquired courts leet: the lord of Oxenbold was granted one in 1544 as were the purchasers of Hopton and Monk Hall next year, (fn. 225) and by 1553 the lord of Shipton had leet jurisdiction in Shipton, Larden, and Skimblescott, though only claims to suit from Corve and Patton (in Oxenbold leet). (fn. 226) The purchaser of Patton and Weston bought the right to a court leet in 1545. (fn. 227) Also in 1545 the Crown sold Little Wenlock with the right to hold a court leet, (fn. 228) though it was probably almost ninety years before the right was exercised there. (fn. 229) Under the priory Much Wenlock manor had been administered separately from Bourton hundred, and it remained Crown property longer than the hundred; when it was finally sold in 1600 its court leet was conveyed with it. (fn. 230)
Fifty years after the Crown's sale of Bourton hundred in 1573 the process of reducing its territory received new impetus. In the mid 16th century a leet jurisdiction had been claimed for the Marsh manor over all the places that had belonged to that manor in the Middle Ages, but there had been much uncertainty about which those places were. In fact they were Barrow, Atterley, and Walton, Benthall, Posenhall, part of Harley, Wigwig, and Wyke and Bradley, but the only places to make presentments at the Marsh court in 1622-3 were Posenhall and Wyke and Bradley, with parts of Barrow (i.e. Shirlett) and Willey (the Smithies). The Marsh, however, had just been bought by the pertinacious John Weld (fn. 231) who wished 'to be free of Wenlock' (by which he evidently meant Bourton hundred) and who intended to reinvigorate his manorial courts of the Marsh and Willey, especially with regard to their jurisdiction over commons and the rights to drive them and make inclosures. (fn. 232) In 1634 he restored the extent of the Marsh's jurisdiction almost completely by buying out Bourton hundred's rights over Barrow, Atterley, and Walton, part of Harley, Willey, and Wyke and Bradley and annexing them to his court leet of the Marsh, (fn. 233) which also had jurisdiction over Broseley's 'Priory land'. (fn. 234) In 1637 he completed the restoration by securing Bourton hundred's jurisdiction over Benthall for the Marsh leet; simultaneously he divided the commons with the lord of Benthall. (fn. 235) Later, when the Welds also owned Bourton hundred (which had jurisdiction over Broseley's 'socage land'), they demarcated the Broseley commons (1648) and thwarted the lord of Broseley's attempt to usurp a court leet and take felons' goods and waifs and strays (1677). (fn. 236) In 1634 the lord of Bourton hundred sold his rights over Little Wenlock to its lord, who was either ignorant of the terms of the grant to his predecessor in 1545 or believed that purchase that was the uncontentious way to acquire a court leet of his own. (fn. 237)
Conflicts of jurisdiction between Bourton hundred and the priory's other leets on the one hand and the new borough on the other were presumably easily avoided as long as the borough and other jurisdictions (fn. 238) were all the priory's. After 1540 there was greater potential for conflict, for a borough incorporated by royal charter normally exercised leet jurisdiction through its own great court, whereas in the borough of Wenlock that jurisdiction belonged to private lords. The borough may have been strengthened, relatively to the lords, by the morcellation of Bourton hundred and Shipton (formerly Oxenbold) leet as new courts leet were created and by the passing of the Marsh (its jurisdiction temporarily enfeebled) and Much Wenlock leets to different lords. (fn. 239)
In the earlier 17th century, however, the acquisition of Bourton hundred and the reinvigoration of Marsh leet gave the Welds an impressive extent of 'leet' territory stretching south-west from Madeley to Presthope and west from Linley to Hughley, interrupted only by Much Wenlock township under Much Wenlock manorial leet. Farther afield (yet within the borough) Bourton hundred gave them jurisdiction over Badger, Beckbury, Brockton, Clee Downton, Clee Stanton, and the Moor, Deuxhill, Hughley, Hungerford and Millichope, and Stoke St. Milborough. Such jurisdictions, administered together though in distinct courts, (fn. 240) made the Welds natural leaders of any resistance to borough encroachments on manorial leets. (fn. 241) In 1651, evidently hoping for the support of 'Mr. Jenkes, my Lord Newport, Mr. Forester, Mr. Penruddock, Sir Francis Lawley, & others that have bought part of the manors within the Hundred (fn. 242) from the Crown with waifs & strays & felons' goods, etc.', it seems that Sir John Weld was sufficiently agitated to contemplate quo warranto proceedings against the borough. He considered representing himself as merely the fee-farmer of the hundred so that the corporation, evidently considering litigation, would have to sue the state. The main causes of concern seem to have been the rights to felons' goods, deodands, and other 'royalties' including rights to waifs and strays that were valued the more because of their connexion with the management of commons. The Welds were considering whether the lords might forbid their tenants to present matters to the borough sessions of the peace that belonged rather to Bourton hundred and the other leets. How matters were settled is unknown, but the rights then at issue seem to have been those that the lord of Bourton hundred continued to exercise almost as long as his court retained any vigour at all.
Bourton hundred court had met at Bourton in the Middle Ages and as late as 1536. After the earlier 16th century, however, it presumably ceased to do so. By the later 17th and early 18th centuries the court's spring meeting was at Broseley, the autumn one usually at Brockton, though occasionally at Linleygreen in the later 1670s and early 1680s; Broseley and Brockton were clearly chosen to accommodate suitors from as far apart as Beckbury and Madeley in the north and Clee Stanton in the south. Bourton hundred court usually met the day after the Marsh court leet (invariably held at Hangstree Gate at that period). By 1723, perhaps from 1711, Bourton hundred court always met in Broseley, and in some years there was only one meeting. (fn. 243)
In the early 18th century a carefully guarded part of Bourton hundred's jurisdiction was the right to round up strays. Sheep were taken at Clee Downton in 1701, and in 1704 George Weld appointed a Beckbury man 'to take all strays in Beckbury or Badger or elsewhere within his manor [sic]' and John Mason, a Shirlett man, to deputize for the hundred bailiff in the same work elsewhere in Bourton hundred. (fn. 244) In Madeley, despite the emergence of a great court, the lord of Bourton hundred retained the right to take strays. (fn. 245) The interlocking townships of Bourton and Munslow hundreds (fn. 246) made vigilance necessary: a week after his appointment Mason reported that the bailiff of Munslow hundred 'doth employ idle persons to convey strays away' and all had gone from Millichope common. (fn. 247)
Useful as it had been to its 17th-century lords in the management of commons and the accompanying 'royalties', (fn. 248) by the 18th century Bourton hundred court was becoming a relic, (fn. 249) commanding little respect. In 1725 William Roper was fined 2s. 6d. for refusing to join in a presentment, defying the steward and abusing his fellow jurors, and saying 'he did not value the court of a farthing'. (fn. 250) Other men were involved in similar incidents 1726-8. (fn. 251) The latest surviving court records (estreat rolls) end in 1769, but for twenty-five years before that only Hungerford and Millichope (until 1754), Linley (until 1763), and townships in Stoke St. Milborough parish (still in 1769) had figured in them with any regularity. (fn. 252)
The borough 1468-1836
In 1468, a few weeks after the first successful royal appointment of a prior of Wenlock (fn. 253) and at the instance of Lord Wenlock, chief butler of England, (fn. 254) Edward IV, recalling the 'laudable and acceptable services' of his 'liege men and residents of the town of Wenlock' in his gaining of the crown, (fn. 255) granted them a charter conferring on the town the status of a 'free borough incorporate forever'. (fn. 256) A bailiff, burgesses, and commonalty were to have a liberty extending over 'the parish of Holy Trinity'. Among the franchises granted to the new burgesses (fn. 257) were some that had already been long enjoyed by the prior and the inhabitants of his hundredal liberty: such were Much Wenlock's Monday market and June fair, the exemption from various dues throughout the realm, and freedom from serving with jurors from outside the liberty. The exclusion of the sheriff and other Crown ministers from the borough was new, but pre-eminent among new privileges were the rights to elect a member of Parliament (fn. 258) and to have its own gaol and sessions of the peace. The bailiff and recorder were to be the king's justices of gaol delivery and of the peace to the exclusion of others, and a borough coroner was to exclude the county coroners and the sheriff. The corporation was granted all fines, amercements, and forfeitures of residents, whether levied in the borough or in the Westminster courts, and, within the borough and liberty, burgesses' deodands, the chattels of outlaws and felons, and (for a year and a day) their forfeited lands or tenements. The corporation was also to have cognizance of all pleas of land and debt to be held before the bailiff. The bailiff's Tuesday court was to determine all pleas of trespass within the liberty and to have jurisdiction over contracts even if they exceeded 40s.
The borough initially had two odd characteristics, fairly soon reduced to one. The corporation officers, though acting for the Crown, were not accountable to it because the town was not 'immediately' under the Crown but held by the prior of Wenlock, whose seignorial rights were recognized. The prior was 'chief burgess' and played a part, early defined, in the annual election of the borough bailiff: on 2 October the prior nominated the first of two men (the second being the retiring bailiff's nominee) who joined themselves to the six men to co-opt five burgesses and so form thirteen to elect the new bailiff. In 1540 the prior's seignorial interest in the borough passed to the Crown and his role in forming the jury to elect the bailiff was filled by the lord of Much Wenlock manor until 1704. (fn. 259)
The charter's other oddity arose from the vagueness with which it defined the borough liberty as 'the parish of Holy Trinity'. That the intention was to make Much Wenlock town a borough seems clear both from the charter's references to the town and from its tacit transfer to the new borough of the priory's markets and fairs in Much Wenlock, while the priory's markets and fairs in its other demesne manors were never borough property. The charter's manipulation of the market and fair rights did not perhaps matter as long as the borough and the manor of Much Wenlock both belonged to the same lord. That ceased to be the case in 1600, and in the earlier 1670s the lady of Much Wenlock manor attempted a quo warranto challenge to the borough's market and fair rights in Much Wenlock, though unsuccessfully. (fn. 260) Nevertheless the phrase defining the liberty as 'the parish of Holy Trinity', had it been construed in accordance with the ecclesiastical realities of 1468, ought to have indicated the parish defined in 1332, and that was a much greater area than the town or even the manor. In fact, however, the borough was to occupy an area greater still. The Dictum of c. 1110 had stated that all the priory's lands were one parish, and the significance of that sentence had been enhanced by the 1198 charter, which had given the priory hundredal jurisdiction over all its tithes as well as its lands: thus the priory's liberty, as settled in the 13th century, had in a significant sense become identifiable with Holy Trinity parish. For two generations after 1468 the new borough, like Bourton hundred and other leets in the liberty, was the priory's, and, with more justification from historical precedent than from logic or the tenor of the 1468 charter, the priory evidently took the borough to include the whole priory liberty-all those estates over which it exercised hundredal or leet jurisdiction. The chancellor's power to amend legal defects in the charter was apparently not used, and the borough's uniquely extensive territory was not further defined until the municipality was reduced by statute in 1835-6. (fn. 261)
The borough obtained a new charter in 1631. (fn. 262) It too was ambivalent about the extent of the borough liberty. It was not to prejudice the Much Wenlock manorial leet ('Sir Roger Bertie's liberties') but expressed no protection for other courts leet functioning elsewhere in the borough, in particular Bourton hundred's and the Marsh leet. (fn. 263) The implication was that the borough liberty extended no farther than the parish of Holy Trinity, which was then smaller than it had been in 1468, although still larger than the area under the jurisdiction of Much Wenlock court leet. (fn. 264) Nevertheless the charter's final clause, that it was to be interpreted for the borough's 'greatest good and benefit', perhaps justified the borough's continuing jurisdiction over the whole of the former priory liberty. Another clause confirmed all ancient jurisdictions lawfully used.
In other ways the 1631 charter confirmed that of 1468, amplifying the corporation's powers of government and peace-keeping by giving them fuller legal definition. Power to make ordinances was vested in the bailiff, a majority of his peers, and the burgesses and commonalty. The bailiff's peers were all those who had previously served his office, and it was from them that a deputy bailiff was to be appointed during the bailiff's incapacity or absence. In legislative practice, however, the need for a majority among the bailiff's peers came to be ignored. There were other changes too. In 1704 the lord of the manor's right to nominate a juror for the election of the bailiff, as of the other annual officers (coroner and treasurer) chosen with him, were transferred by borough ordinance to the bailiff and his peers. The fourth annual officer, the serjeant at mace who was also gaoler, high constable, and server of process out of the court of record, was appointed by the bailiff. (fn. 265) The 1631 charter appointed new borough magistrates: the recorder Sir John Bridgeman, (fn. 266) Richard Jones, esquire, bailiff 1630-1, (fn. 267) and the bailiff for the time being and his immediate predecessor; Jones was to be succeeded as magistrate by one chosen annually from the bailiff's peers at the first common hall after Michaelmas. Sessions were to be kept for all matters 'except such as concern title', and the town clerk was to be clerk of the peace.
In the mid 17th century disputes about commons and the associated 'royalties' strained relations between the corporation and the lords of leet jurisdictions (formerly the priory's) within the borough, (fn. 268) as did uncertainties about market and fair rights in Much Wenlock town. There were other potential conflicts too. In normal boroughs a range of administrative responsibilities and jurisdiction over nuisances and trespasses was divided between the borough great (i.e. leet) court and its sessions of the peace, (fn. 269) but in Wenlock leet jurisdiction was in private hands. Court leet and Wenlock borough records hint that in the 17th and 18th centuries the different interests achieved some sort of modus vivendi, though they do not reveal its continuous operation. A petty constable absent from the court of Bourton hundred or the Marsh leet at which he was appointed had to swear his oath of office before a borough magistrate within an appointed time. (fn. 270) Borough magistrates were exercising control over alehouse keepers by the mid 17th century (fn. 271) while later in the century (but perhaps rarely after the 1680s) Bourton hundred and the Marsh leet (for example) were evidently fining alesellers and victuallers for breaking the assize of bread and of ale. (fn. 272) In 1719 all unlicensed alesellers were ordered to be brought before the next borough sessions, (fn. 273) and by then the borough magistrates' oversight of parish government was probably a matter of course, highway surveyors and churchwardens and overseers routinely attending their special sessions. (fn. 274)
The corporation governed the borough in accordance with its charters until 1836. Its income came from rates (fn. 275) and the profits of its markets and fairs. (fn. 276) A gift (c. 1675) of £200 from Sir Thomas Littleton, M.P. for the borough 1640-6 and 1661-79, was used in 1720 to buy a charter for two more fairs. (fn. 277) The corporation's only property (fn. 278) was the guildhall, built on the edge of Holy Trinity churchyard c. 1540; by 1577 a borough gaol adjoined it. (fn. 279) In other ways, perhaps because of its widely scattered territory, the borough relied periodically on county facilities. From c. 1630 a county house of correction at Bridgnorth was used, but in 1707 the mastership of a house in Much Wenlock was added to the serjeant at mace's duties; (fn. 280) a local house may still have been used in 1771. (fn. 281) Prisoners for debt were the serjeant's responsibility by the 17th century, and in 1648 seven were accommodated in two upper rooms over the guildhall. (fn. 282)
Capital sentences were passed at quarter sessions, and in 1542 the execution ground was 'on the Edge Top'. (fn. 283) One of the serjeant's duties in 1687 was 'so often as occasion shall require [to] procure, find, and maintain a topman or executioner to execute all felons condemned to die'. (fn. 284) In the earlier 18th century executions were carried out in the town, but by the 1830s it was long since capital felonies had been tried there. (fn. 285)
By the later 1750s, when repairs to the borough gaol were very frequent and gaol breaks not unknown, prisoners charged with the more serious crimes were sent to the county gaol in Shrewsbury. (fn. 286) In 1786 a prisoner was being held in Wenlock gaol against the next quarter sessions, (fn. 287) but probably soon thereafter (fn. 288) committals were invariably to Shrewsbury, as in the 1830s. Regular petty sessions were then fortnightly but also as occasioned by the need to avoid confining lesser offenders. In 1835 the magistrates were castigated for negligence, perhaps largely owing to the recent signing of a blank committal warrant procured by a constable who wanted his travel expenses paid for a day at Shrewsbury races. (fn. 289)
In the later 17th and the 18th centuries, when parish highway surveyors and overseers of the poor were summoned to the magistrates' special sessions, they had to appear at 'the serjeant's house' or 'town hall'; (fn. 290) those were doubtless other names for the guildhall, which was probably also the venue for quarter sessions. (fn. 291) By 1803, however, it was said that 'the regular courts' (evidently petty sessions, including the special alehouse licensing sessions) (fn. 292) were kept at the Raven inn belonging to George Forester, (fn. 293) and that was where the bailiff's feast (and from 1836 the mayor's) was often held. (fn. 294) The creation of the Broseley court of requests in 1782, (fn. 295) with simpler and cheaper procedure, greatly reduced the borough court of record's business, which had apparently also suffered because successive bailiffs had allowed it to become the preserve of a few local attorneys, 'agents of influential parties connected with the borough'. By the 1830s the court met only fortnightly, and cases then, as in busier times, rarely came to trial. (fn. 296)
The parliamentary borough 1468-1885
Wenlock's charter empowered it to elect one M.P., but by 1491 writs to elect two were being issued. (fn. 297) From 1544 to 1629 the representation was mostly dominated by the Lawleys, kinsmen seated at Spoonhill and Wenlock Abbey, and to a lesser extent by the Lacons of Willey. Unrepresented 1646-59, the borough returned a Lawley in 1659, but thereafter the Welds, of Willey from 1618, and the Foresters of Watling Street, later of Dothill, families whose landed interests coalesced in 1748, (fn. 298) dominated the borough's representation until 1885, though rarely free of the threat of opposition before 1826. Interests based on the Lawleys' property and the Much Wenlock manorial estate (fn. 299) would have profited politically from a restriction of the parliamentary boundary to Much Wenlock itself; legal challenges were periodically meditated or threatened (fn. 300) but never pushed to a conclusion. The Foresters easily met the cost of defending their interests and of creating (fn. 301) and treating large numbers of burgesses in the 18th and early 19th century. After 1826, however, they were concerned to hold only one seat; the other was occupied by men (Peelite from the 1850s, then Liberal) connected with the manorial estate and the Lawleys' interest. After 1832, despite the electorate's increasingly industrial character and its sudden great growth (fn. 302) in 1868 to 3,445 (including many rural labourers), (fn. 303) there were few contests, mainly no doubt because of the balance of power and influence between the Conservative WeldForesters (who always topped the poll when there was one) and the Liberals.
The parliamentary borough survived the 1832 Reform Act intact and weathered later political criticism. (fn. 304) Its survival meant the persistence of ancient boundaries until 1885. They puzzled canvassers for the radical candidate in November 1832: it was hard for them to discover which south Shropshire villages were in the parliamentary borough and which were not, and the locals misled them. (fn. 305) Eventually all the eccentric detail of the parliamentary boundary had to be worked out for the Ordnance Survey's 25-in. plans, and in 1881 the town clerk attempted to help and advise, adducing the evidence of old poll books and electoral registers and even sending a translation of the Dictum of c. 1110. (fn. 306) With such aid and other local information the Survey thus recorded (fn. 307) the closest approximation there is to the boundary of the priory's medieval liberty and the borough of 1468-1836. (fn. 308) The main discrepancy between the Ordnance Survey plans and the borough incorporated in 1468 was the omission of small areas like Pickthorn and parts of Oxenbold or Patton, lost to the borough apparently in the late 17th or early 18th century. (fn. 309)
The borough 1836-89
The most obvious impact of the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act on the borough was the loss of its detached parts, (fn. 310) rather more than a third of its territory. In 1836 the county magistrates assigned Badger, Beckbury, Eaton-under-Heywood, and most of Shipton (fn. 311) and Stoke St. Milborough (fn. 312) parishes to neighbouring petty sessional divisions of the county. (fn. 313) They clearly had little idea of where Deuxhill was: having assigned it to Bridgnorth division, they soon had to reassign it to Chelmarsh division. (fn. 314) The resulting municipal borough, still very extensive, was divided into three wards. Madeley ward consisted of Madeley and Little Wenlock parishes, Broseley ward included Barrow, Benthall, Borseley, Linley, and Willey parishes and Posenhall extra-parochial place, and Wenlock ward comprised the rest: Hughley, Monkhopton, and Much Wenlock parishes, most of Ditton Priors parish, and Skimblescott. (fn. 315) Each ward elected six councillors to the borough council of 24, whose number was completed by six aldermen; in place of the bailiff of the old corporation a mayor was to preside. (fn. 316) The last bailiff completed his term of office after becoming mayor on 1 January 1836. (fn. 317)
Besides territory Wenlock lost its quarter sessions and coroner, (fn. 318) though it was granted a commission of the peace in 1836. (fn. 319) The borough was therefore assessed to the county rate (fn. 320) and became a county coroner's district. (fn. 321) The skill with which the landed interests had combined to manipulate the old borough institutions in the 1820s (fn. 322) may have persisted: for half a century after 1835 there was little political excitement in borough affairs, (fn. 323) and the changes introduced by the 1835 Act were, from the beginning, endured with 'more moderation, and less of party feeling' than in some other reformed Shropshire boroughs. (fn. 324) In 1840 Wenlock was prompt to join the new county constabulary. (fn. 325)
By 1841, however, earlier moves to petition for the restoration of a court of quarter sessions were being revived. Some (including at least one resident magistrate and perhaps the town clerk) disapproved, but a petition succeeded, (fn. 326) and in November 1842 Much Wenlock was reported 'rather bustling' on account of the court's revival under the new recorder, Uvedale Corbett: at his first sessions, after a trial of over five hours, he sentenced Thomas Halford, shoemaker and Chartist lecturer, to three months' imprisonment for incitement to steal during that summer's disturbances over wage reductions. (fn. 327) With its quarter sessions (which it retained until 1949) (fn. 328) the borough regained its coroner. (fn. 329) Although it ceased to pay the county rate from 1842, the borough continued its partnerships with the county, paying to the county police rate, (fn. 330) paying to use the county gaol (fn. 331) (keeping its own merely as a lock-up), (fn. 332) and in 1844 forming a partnership with the county to found the pauper lunatic asylum. (fn. 333)
Nevertheless the borough and its still extensive and eccentric territory remained in many ways an obstacle to the rationalization and unification of local government so notably advanced by the Public Health Act of 1872. (fn. 334) Most of the borough was then within Madeley poor-law union, formed 1836. (fn. 335) The union's twelve parishes, however, included three (one of them populous) outside the borough boundary, (fn. 336) while outlying parts of the borough had been included in Atcham and Bridgnorth unions since their formation in 1836. (fn. 337) The borough was accordingly excluded from the Public Health Act's provisions, (fn. 338) as it was retrospectively from those of the 1870 Education Act concerning school board elections. (fn. 339) Later three urban parishes within the borough and the Madeley union became urban sanitary and highway districts under local boards of health: (fn. 340) Much Wenlock in 1873, (fn. 341) Broseley in 1876, (fn. 342) and Madeley in 1880. (fn. 343) The Atcham, Bridgnorth, and Madeley rural sanitary authorities continued to be responsible for the remaining parts of the borough. (fn. 344) The borough's existence also frustrated the introduction of new highway authorities. The county magistrates, on adopting the 1862 Highways Act, had tried to form rural highway districts that coincided with the poor-law unions, (fn. 345) but they had no authority within the quarter sessions borough of Wenlock, where nine rural parishes accordingly continued as highway authorities. (fn. 346)
The borough, so anomalous as to require regular exclusion from important pieces of general legislation, was clearly ready for a second dose of reform, and the 1888 Local Government Act provided the means of administering it. (fn. 347)
The borough 1889-1966
In 1889 the borough was further reduced, to half of its ancient (pre-1836) area, by the loss of Hughley and Monkhopton civil parishes and the part of Ditton Priors C.P. that was in the borough. The remaining borough territory was divided into four wards: Barrow, Broseley, Madeley, and Wenlock. (fn. 348) Madeley ward was to elect 9 borough councillors, Broseley and Wenlock wards 6 each, and Barrow ward 3, and the 24 councillors, with 8 aldermen, were to form the new council. The borough was reformed by a special Act, (fn. 349) providing it with a unique, truly federal, constitution. Although the borough became an area for the administration of sanitary affairs, as had been the case with normal boroughs since 1872, the borough council was not the sanitary authority. Instead four district committees were created, each to be the autonomous authority of a sanitary district conterminous with a borough ward. Thus the borough's Broseley, Madeley, and Wenlock district committees took over the responsibilities of the Broseley, Madeley, and Wenlock local boards, then abolished; its Barrow district committee took over the responsibilities within the borough of the Madeley rural sanitary authority and those of the six former highways parishes remaining within the borough, all in Barrow ward. (fn. 350) Each district committee consisted of the aldermen assigned to it by the borough council and the councillors elected for the ward.
The borough became a 'Part III' local education authority in 1903. (fn. 351) There were no elementary board schools for it to take over, (fn. 352) but it formed a school attendance committee (fn. 353) and, in 1905, a higher education committee. (fn. 354) In 1912 it relinquished its education powers to the county council, (fn. 355) a move in the tradition of Wenlock's mid 19th-century co-operation with the county and consonant with general trends in the earlier 20th century as education devolved on county authorities, (fn. 356) housing on minor authorities. In the 20th century the borough's district committees thus became housing authorities, that of the most populous district an important one within Shropshire. When the Addison housing programme began in 1919 (fn. 357) the populous industrial parishes of Broseley and Madeley had accumulated housing problems and their district committees needed to plan for the elimination of slums and insanitary houses as well as to provide for post-war needs. Between the 1920s and 1966 the Madeley district committee built over 1,400 dwellings, (fn. 358) more than twice the combined total of the other three district committees: over the same period the Broseley committee built some 420, (fn. 359) the Wenlock committee some 230; (fn. 360) the Barrow committee built very few. (fn. 361)
Such statistics point to social and economic contrasts between the borough's different parts that had been noted as early as the 1830s. (fn. 362) By the mid 20th century the wards had developed correspondingly distinct political identities to which the council officers serving those committees had regularly to adapt. (fn. 363) The 6th Lord Forester (twice mayor) (fn. 364) was a member of the small Barrow committee from 1899 until his death in 1932, when his son the 7th baron (also twice mayor) succeeded to his father's seat and went on to chair the committee 1945-66, latterly as an alderman; (fn. 365) business went through smoothly. By contrast in Broseley ward, and perhaps even more in Madeley, councillors were sharply divided by party politics, and those wards contributed most to the Labour party's strength in the borough. (fn. 366)
In 1947 the deadlocked Madeley district committee (6 Labour, 6 independents) was unable to elect a chairman and the ensuing dispute revealed that the town clerk and district committee members had for years misconceived the committees as district councils. (fn. 367) In 1949 a council subcommittee, recommending administrative changes within the borough, was unable to agree whether repeal of the 1889 constitution should be sought; the process was likely to prove expensive, and later that year the borough decided against seeking a change, though the reformers predicted that the Boundary Commission would return to sweep away what had 'amazed' them the year before. Meanwhile different rates for different parts of the borough, multiplication of work for the council's officers, and the alleged existence of 42 borough banking accounts were said to amount to 'parochialism run mad', (fn. 368) a claim that a recent contest between Broseley and Madeley for a meagre Ministry of Health housing allocation went far to justify. (fn. 369)
In such circumstances interest revived in a rearrangement of local authorities in the east Shropshire coalfield area. Dawley's inclusion in Wenlock borough had been proposed more than once in the 19th century, (fn. 370) and in the 1930s the county council had explored the possibility of amalgamating Dawley and Oakengates. (fn. 371) In 1948, under the stimulus of the Boundary Commission's work, there was much local support in principle for schemes to amalgamate local authorities in the Wrekin area, where Wellington rural district was half urban and Wenlock borough half rural. The press too pushed such schemes. (fn. 372) By 1956, when the Conservative government was beginning to prepare for local-government reform, (fn. 373) there was talk of a 'borough of the Wrekin' to include territory ceded by Wenlock, whose unique system of semi-autonomous wards was considered 'not satisfactory'. (fn. 374) In 1963 the government designated Dawley urban district, Madeley ward, and small parts of Barrow and Broseley wards as Dawley new town. (fn. 375) The move 'took the ground from under our feet' confessed Lord Forester, a county as well as a Wenlock alderman and chairman of the county Planning Committee 1962-6; he claimed that Wenlock's 'somewhat peculiar system of local government since 1468' had 'worked very well'. (fn. 376) The designation nevertheless fitted in with the county council's scheme (being prepared in accordance with the Conservatives' 1958 Act) for reorganizing the Shropshire minor authorities. After 1964 the scheme survived the Labour government's new ideas on local-government reform: a deal struck over the new town's expansion saved it, (fn. 377) and it came into effect in 1966, bringing the borough to an end. Madeley ward, the Severn Gorge parts of Benthall and Broseley civil parishes, and part of Little Wenlock C.P. were transferred to Dawley U.D. Bridgnorth rural district received the rest of the borough except for the rest of Little Wenlock C.P., which went to Wellington R.D. (fn. 378)
On the evening of 28 March 1966, three days before its dissolution, Wenlock corporation met for the last time. Business over, it passed from the guildhall into Holy Trinity for a thanksgiving service. (fn. 379) No scene for the final act could have been fitter than the church whose parish, equivocally defined, had spelled the extension of such privileges and so odd a system of local government over so wide an area for so many centuries.
Bailiffs, mayors, seals, arms, and insignia
A list of bailiffs 1468-1835 and mayors from 1836 is on a board in the Guildhall court room. (fn. 380)
A late 15th-century circular corporation seal, 50 mm. in diameter, displays figures under three gothic canopies, the Holy Trinity in the centre, on the left St. Mildburg holding a crozier and book, and on the right St. Michael; in the base are three escutcheons, the right-hand one Lord Wenlock's, and either side the main design are words and devices relating to a rebus or motto of his. A surrounding legend, black letter, has been read as: SIGILLUM COMMUNE BURGI DE WENLOK. The seal in use in the 19th century-presumably until c. 1884 when a new one 'on the embossing principle' was acquired-was said to be 'a shallow modern copy of the old one, with various errors of detail'. (fn. 381) A rebus formed by the letters W, E, and N and a fetterlock was on a 'seal of office for common processes', elliptical 25 × 23 mm., drawn in the mid 18th century. (fn. 382)
The corporation had no official arms, but used the fetterlock, in blue and gold, as a badge. An escutcheon, charged with three inescutcheons from the corporation seal, otherwise did duty as unofficial arms. (fn. 383)
The borough insignia comprise a mid 17th-century sword, evidently given in 1757; two silver gilt maces, one (the serjeant's mace) 17th-century, the other (the great mace) given by George Forester and hallmarked 1811-12; and a set of six staves, two with more ornamental gilt heads than the others. (fn. 384) There was no plate. (fn. 385) By the 1890s the mayor was scarlet robed and the town clerk had a black gown, (fn. 386) and in 1899 Lord Forester and members of the corporation presented the borough with a mayoral chain and pendant badge (containing a reproduction of the corporation seal), gothic in design. (fn. 387)